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Bottlenose dolphins on the Moray Firth, Scotland.

The dolphin population in the Moray Firth area is very special as they are the most northerly resident bottlenose dolphins in the world with over 130 animals currently recorded. These particular dolphins vary physically to their relations in warmer climates such as the Caribbean, Indian or Pacific oceans. They are a lot bigger and fatter (4m as opposed to 2.5m) - this is due to the large percentage of blubber they have in their bodies to insulate them from the colder water temperatures of the North Sea.
Dolphins, unlike sharks, do not automatically replace their teeth when lost - they only have one set which has to last for their entire life! They eat 8-15kgs (15-33lbs) of fish a day; feeding largely on inshore, bottom dwelling varieties but they will also take catfish, rays, eels, hermit crabs and shrimps. They live in very close knit family units (known as pods) which range in size from a few individuals to larger groups. Dolphins are friendly, highly intelligent creatures. Local people around the Firth have seen dolphins for many years, there are reports from as long ago as 1900.

From land, groups of bottlenose dolphins can often be seen leaping close to shore on calm days, with April to September being the best months to see these animals in their natural habitat in this area. This small, isolated population of bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth is very vulnerable and any change or threat to their natural environment can affect breeding/reproduction rates thus endangering the future of these dolphins.
Bottlenose dolphin off Scotland. © Marine Connection
Females produce a calf approximately every 2 years and in the wild they live from 20-50 years of age.

By far the best way to study dolphins in the wild is by photo identification (photo-id). High quality, close up photographs are taken of both sides of the animals’ dorsal fin, as markings which appear on the fins are unique to each individual dolphin (much like a human fingerprint.) Matching up dorsal fin markings helps provide vital information on the dolphins’ daily habits, where they go and which other animals they associate with. Facially, all bottlenose dolphins features are similar and not easily identifiable (even to experts), hence the reason for dorsal fin photo-id.

However they are not the only visitors to the waters of the Firth. Harbour porpoises, Risso’s, White-beaked dolphins and even the odd Humpback or Fin whale are not uncommon sights around this Scottish coastline. And of course, there are always the friendly seals...all of which makes the Moray Firth one of the best areas in the UK to watch dolphins, whales and other marine life!

One of the main Marine Connection’s UK projects focuses on the wild population of bottlenose dolphins that live in the Moray Firth. Working at a local level, the charity operates an educational programme, teaching school children how to respect the oceans and help reduce pollution - all crucial to protecting the future of dolphins, whales and porpoises and making their ocean home a safer, cleaner place for them live.

For up to date information on dolphin and whale issues or to go out on a boat to see the Scottish dolphins please visit:www.marineconnection.org